M1 Concourse Madness – An opinion

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Submitted by Samuel Jefferson Kennard
Amelia City, Florida
June 25, 2019 1:00 a.m.

It is shocking to understand that the Fernandina Beach Municipal Airport Advisory Board is entertaining a proposal to convert the Amelia River Golf Course into a M1 Concourse like the one in Pontiac, Michigan.
The M1 Concourse facility in Michigan occupies 87 acres and is centered on its 1.5-mile performance-racing track and is known for “all things motor sports”. For more information google M1 Concourse, Pontiac, Michigan.

The project is being promoted as a means of generating incremental revenue. This desire to “make more money” comes at the expense of quality of life, the main reason people choose to make Fernandina Beach and Amelia Island their home.

First, historic Fernandina Beach on small Amelia Island is obviously not metro Detroit.

Second, developing a pristine natural golf recreational amenity into a concrete and steel performance track with its loud noise and increased traffic is not compatible with the shape and character of Fernandina Beach and Amelia Island.

Third, a conclusion of the EAR (Evaluation, Appraisal and Review) process of the Fernandina Beach Comprehensive Plan is that citizen’s overwhelming desire to conserve land and open spaces. This M1 proposal would not be in compliance with the public’s proposed changes to the Comprehensive Plan of Fernandina Beach. It would be swapping an attractive and serene open property for an unattractive developed asset with noise pollution and increased traffic.

Fourth, a M1 Concourse would not be a welcome neighbor for Crane Island and other residential neighborhoods that are near the Amelia River Golf Course.

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Fifth, the FDOT has already cited problems resulting from traffic congestion on Amelia Island Parkway and Buccaneer Trail, without the added volume resulting from a M1 Concourse.

Clearly, a M1 Concourse development project is much better suited for rural Nassau County and not on Amelia Island.

Editor’s Note: Samuel Jefferson Kennard’s Florida roots go back to the early nineteenth century. His pioneer ancestor signed the Territory of Florida’s First Constitution in 1838 and others have lived continuously on Amelia Island for 150 years. Kennard is the great grandson of a Cumberland Sound pilot.

Kennard is founding chairman of Stand for Amelia Island, Inc., a not for profit State of Florida Corporation dedicated to advocating solutions for important issues affecting the general public welfare of Fernandina Beach, Amelia Island and Nassau County.

Kennard was graduated from the University of Georgia and attended Harvard Business School executive development programs. Kennard is married and he and his wife, Karin live on Amelia Island.

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13 Responses to M1 Concourse Madness – An opinion

  1. Frank Marone says:

    Thank you so much for stepping up with your cogent analysis and I totally concur with your opposition. I really don’t see the need and this is a risky project with no bedrock and failure to deliver a comprehensive feasibility study; so the likelyhood of financing is precarious. No real collateral for $200 million and doomed for failure!
    The need for a White Knight is a possible solution and if you can develop Hotel then maybe Club Corp would add it to their portfolio. It’s a one of a kind golf resort facility with no homes making it a hidden gem. Where are the alternative forces to keep the golf course?

    • Mrs. D. Hunter says:

      “Where are the alternative forces to keep the golf course?” We only wish! My husband plays Amelia River every day, 7 days a week, adores the course for “the hidden gem” [as you say] that it is. Part of Leggett’s pitch is that golf is a dead sport, and that today’s retirees want a brisker workout of shorter duration – a 100% false premise on both counts. If you have a direct line to the “White Knight” you’re speaking of, Mr. Marone, please get a proposal because a backup contract is desperately needed asap.

  2. Dave Lott says:

    While I am opposed to the road course concept presented, I do not fault the Airport Advisory Board nor the City Commission from listening to the proposal. That is their responsibility.

  3. Bruce Smyk says:

    My belief is that the race course is a “bait & switch”. The developer will toss it out of the plans when he gets everything else he wanted. People will be thrilled until they realize they got taken.

    • Dave Lott says:

      Bruce, while there might be some bait and switch, I don’t think it would be for the race course as the lease could be written to require that much as the original lease was written to require the golf course, clubhouse, etc. I think the race course will be the biggest hurdle to overcome from a permitted land use in the IA zoning. While a go-kart track might qualify as a recreational usage depending on how it is structured, I don’t see any way the road course could be.

  4. Frank Quigley says:

    Agree with this post. And if at all serious about considering this venture, the city should require Mr. Leggett to provide the market analysis that led him to decide that this is a viable long-term business. Yes, the golf business is declining across the nation – but a red-herring in regards to this enterprise.

    What the city should try to understand, before even going one more step,includes:

    What is the profile/persona of the target customer? This includes demographics and psychographics. Also how do they behave in regards to deciding on visiting such a themed destination? What is their checklist and how would Leggett’s offering stack up? How often, annually, do they participate?
    How many of them exist, and where are they? This can include international, but probably more likely US. Does Mr. Leggett expect SE US regional as a market, US national, or International?
    What is the competitive set? We’ve seen social media comments about a similar operation in Northern Georgia, elsewhere. What numbers can we get by studying these operations?
    For the “resort” aspect of his plan, how would a west-island luxury resort stack up against Ritz-Carlton & Omni Plantation? How important is being seaside, for a multi-star resort generally and for this one in particular?

    My concern is that – in contrast to golf, tennis, etc. – the high-end car enthusiast market is a “thin market”. Not a lot of individuals are in it. And others are already competing for it. Red herrings include that Concourse proves this is an auto-centric community – not sure about that. The other is that golf trends have affected the Sheffield’s golf operations. We don’t know whether their company could have fared better with better pricing, packages, volume discounts, marketing, whatever. But that has zero bearing on Leggett’s proposal.

    So, it seems, to me, that Leggett’s proposal seems far-fetched and that is something that can and should be addressed – from a statistical and fact-based perspective. An auto park is a bad idea. A worse thing would for it to become a white elephant for Fernandina Beach.

    Final note, Atlanta Autosports Park is in Dawsonville, at the far north of that very expansive metropolitan statistical area. Dawsonville embraced “tourism” to kick-start the local economy. Other Dawsonville attractions include Dawsonville Moonshine Distillery, Gordon Pirkle’s Dawsonville Pool Room, Uncle Shuck’s and Buck’s Corn Mazes, and Bradley’s Pumpkin Patch.

    • John Goshco says:

      Thanks Frank. You have presented some very good thoughts for consideration that have only been glossed over by the Leggett operation.

      Now – if they want to convert the golf course to a combination corn maze and pumpkin patch, I’m all in.

    • Dave Lott says:

      And Dawsonville is the hometown of the legendary NASCAR driver Bill Elliott. I have been by Atlanta Autosports Park and it is literally out in the middle of nowhere surrounded by large farms, forests and a couple of homes here and there.
      While you raise some good points, I’m not sure the city can require Leggett to justify his business plan. If he is going to sink tens of millions of dollars into the venture he does so at his own (or investors) risk. But I would hope each commissioner would evaluate the probability of the venture’s success or failure in their decision whether to move forward or not. Hopefully not!

      • Frank Quigley says:

        I haven’t had your experience in local government, but I do not see how the FBCC could give thumbs up without better data. Since the property is city-owned, and the lease would be let by the city – there wouldn’t be fiduciary duty to understand the P&L viability of an auto track resort? Doesn’t seem the same as a developer purchasing a land track and building on it. Much more direct to the city, citizens (& taxpayers).

        At any rate, the spectre of having a large piece of land developed for a concept that the FBCC can not confidently believe can succeed should result in a unanimous thumbs down.

  5. John Goshco says:

    As I write this note, my neighbor has been running his lawnmower for slightly over one hour. It’s not a large lawn, but he’s slow and thorough. I can hear it outside the house and inside the house. I need to turn the TV up one notch to compensate.

    Is the noise within reasonable limits? Probably. Would I want to hear this continuous droning all day, every day? Definitely not.

  6. Christine Corso says:

    Unlike the City golf course property, the site of the Pontiac M1 Concourse was a former autobile manufacturing plant, and unlike Amelia Island, is accessible and surrounded by four major freeways, one of which is I75.

    Interestingly, the proposed track for the Leggett development is 2.3-miles or 53% longer than the 1.5-mile track in Pontiac, Michigan. In auto racing, the most common surface for a racetrack is asphalt. Asphalt absorbs heat. As an example, when the outside air temperature is 77 degrees, asphalt in the sun is 125 degrees (you can fry an egg at 131 degrees). The existence of 2.3-mile asphalt racetrack in the center of the island will create a large scale “heat island effect” which could alter the overall climate of Amelia Island, and most certainly will effect evening temperatures as heat from the asphalt is slowly released during the evening hours. “Heat islands”, per the EPA, describes built up areas that are hotter than nearby rural areas and which can affect communities by increasing summertime peak energy demand, air conditioning costs, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, heat-related illness and mortality, and water pollution.

    However, the critical question to be asked is – What if the project fails? The Sheffield’s bought the lease when the prior lessee bankrupted. What will be the alternate use if this project fails? It will be difficult to attract an alternative user who will be willing to incur the significant expense to repurpose the land which is a leasehold with limited alternative uses. The city will be left with an overdeveloped property which will become an eyesore.

    • Dave Lott says:

      Christine, just as clarification to your opening, this is not about the City golf course property but of airport property owned by the City and leased to the Sheffields who took over a lease from a private company that developed the golf course that competes with the City golf course.

  7. Frank Aquino says:

    Please don’t try to confuse me with selected facts. All the visitors in downtown St Petersburg, and the residents in the surrounding area, don’t object to the track and airport next to the Dali Museum. It’s cosmopolitan. Residents who migrated here didn’t object to the amenities they enjoyed either.

    The development will include a five star hotel and upgrades to the golf course. So we end up with upscale housing, an airport, access to the intracoastal, classy hotel and golf course securely tucked away like the Ritz and Plantation.

    And what are we crying about, that we see one less dolphin, egret, sunset? Oh yes and those jets landing in the airport don’t make any noise. If you want that go to Montana, Idaho ; but you’ll freeze to death in the winter…

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